How well do you sleep on a Sunday night?

Feeling weary today? Dr Guy Meadows starts a short series on the importance of sleep with a look at how to drop off on Sunday night

Sunday night insomnia is reported to affect up to 70 per cent of the UK working population, which explains why so many of us struggle on a Monday! Its occurrence can be explained by the interaction between three factors, which when combined create the perfect recipe for sleeplessness.

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The first factor involves a confusion of the internal body clock as a result of people going to bed and getting up later on the weekend compared to during the week. This unhelpfully resets the clock to a later time, delaying the arrival of the sleeping signal until later on Sunday night.

The second factor is the reduction in sleep drive as a result of people spending less time awake on a Sunday before attempting to sleep. For example, if someone was to sleep in till midday and then attempt to go to bed at 10pm, they would have only accumulated 10 hours of sleep drive or sleepiness, compared with the required 16 to 17 hours of wakefulness.

The final ingredient is the natural tendency on a Sunday night to worry about the working week ahead. Stimulating the brain’s waking centre it increases alertness and therefore wakefulness levels just when you are trying to drop off.

The combination of the confusion of the internal body clock, lack of sleep drive and a head full of worries makes easy to see how Sunday night insomnia develops, but also how it can be prevented. 

Aim to get up at roughly the same time every day, even on the weekends and especially after a late night. Whilst this may sound like torture, it helps to keep your internal body clock on time.

Staying awake during the day and avoiding sleeping in or long naps ensures that an adequate amount of sleep drive is built up during the day helping you to fall to sleep quickly at the start of the night. If you do feel overly tired then having a short nap (30 minutes maximum) and ideally between the times of 12 pm and 3 pm can boost energy and alertness levels, without reducing your night time sleep quality.

Writing out a detailed ‘to do’ list on Sunday evening for the working week ahead can help to calm your worrisome mind. If it’s written down your thinking mind spends less time racing around trying to remember everything it’s got to do, allowing the rest of your brain to get on with the job of sleeping. 

Tomorrow, Dr Meadows looks at the science of sleep.


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